Can you retrieve all Joe’s email from the last 2 months please? No, why not?

Published: February 18th, 2013

We are increasingly seeing cases where some impropriety has happened within a customer’s organization and this leads to the desire to assemble as much proof and context for this as possible.

One of the first things customers think of is to collect all inbound and outbound email correspondance related to the problem for the time period involved.  Next, they open a Support Ticket asking us to gather all of this email … assuming we can magically produce anything that has passed through our systems and instantly (or at least quickly) retrieve it.

There is magic like this … powerful mojo that allows the customer to search for and retrieve any and all of this email easily.  Unfortunately, even Harry Houdini had to prepare for his spectacular feats; if the customer has not had the foresight to prepare for the possibility that  a non-editable, non-deletable, complete history of email traffic might be very important, then s/he is usually, unfortunately out of luck.

Prepare?  How?

Preparation involves subscribing to an Email Archival service.  E.g. one which:

  • Captures copies of all inbound and outbound email for your organization
  • Saves these to a separate location from your regular email
  • Makes it impossible for anyone to edit or delete these messages (at least for some number of years)
  • Allows you to search these archives and download email from them as needed
  • Provides access for administrator(s) to search all messages, and for user(s) to view and search their own

Really? Why?

Why is email archival not just part of my regular email service?

  • Storage of all inbound and outbound email for a number of years in a separate facility and providing appropriate access to it comes at a cost much greater than that of a regular email box.
  • Typical archival services, like LuxSci’s, are not limited or priced by how much data is stored … but only by how many user’s data is stored … a lot of email can be archived, much more than may be ever saved in your regular email system.
  • Ensuring a reliable environment that can be responsive and usable when searching through years and years of accumulated email is not simple and is a much different task than providing regular business email services.

Can’t I do this with my regular email anyway?

Well, you could save all of your email in folders in your regular email system.  However,

  • You will probably quickly run out of space … and buying more space in a regular email environment (if such is even permitted) may be more expensive than email archival in the first place.
  • Searching through hundreds of thousands or even millions of email messages in your regular email system will likely be much less efficient than in a true archival scenario.
  • Regular email systems permit deletion of email messages…. and that action is typically not even logged.  You can’t be sure that there are no messages missing.
  • If the users themselves are in charge of maintaining their own email histories, then you allow the malicious parties the ability to cover their own tracks.

Unfortunately, it is usually the case that customers in need of historical email for legal or other purposes (e.g. they deleted a bunch of stuff which is no longer available in server backups) only have their user email folders at hand.  In such cases,

  1. Customers can request backup copies of folders stored on the email servers and hope that the messages needed are there.
  2. Customers can request that all email folders on the server owned by all of their users are scanned for particular types of messages … hoping that the needed messages were sent to or by others and thus still exist somewhere.

We have done #1 and #2 many times for customers … but it is always just a “this is the best we can do” case based upon what data the customer has available.  You don’t want to be in that situation as not being able to retrieve this information far exceeds the cost of storing it in this day and age.

Think of it as a form on insurance … the best way not to need it is to have it.

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